In a welcome show of European-US unity, the West has responded swiftly and forcefully to Ukraine's rigged presidential election Nov. 21.
By condemning the official results, urging a revote, and promising consequences if the fraudulent outcome holds, Europe and America appear to be doing everything they can to support a democratic resolution of this high-stakes election.
But while their role is critical, and they certainly should not let up pressure, it is the commitment of the pro-democracy Ukrainians themselves that is the most important ingredient here. In the end, their untiring support for a fair and accurate outcome may be the one factor that allows Russian President Vladimir Putin to step back from his favored candidate without losing much face, for even Mr. Putin has said the dispute should be settled "by Ukrainians."
Not since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, and later the disintegration of Yugoslavia, has a European country's internal grappling with its future held such consequence. In having to side with either the Western leaning, democratically minded Viktor Yushchenko or the Russia-leaning and autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, this country the size of France faced a choice between economic reform and the rule of law, and a corrupt oligarchy more at home with Moscow than Brussels or Washington.
Hundreds of thousands of pro-Yushchenko demonstrators in Kiev pitted against pro-Yanukovich supporters in eastern, Russian-speaking Ukraine expose a dangerous fault line in this country of 48 million people - but also one in Europe.
The casual observer may have believed the cold-war contest between freedom and autocracy was over, but it's apparently being fought on a smaller scale. Ukraine is the linchpin in Putin's plan to create an economic partnership of "managed democracies" in Russia's "near abroad." But the West would like to see Ukraine embrace democracy and a market economy more thoroughly, and perhaps, in the process, influence the reversal of Russia's autocratic trend.
For these reasons, East and West are exerting considerable pressure to resolve this dispute. But the most critical pressure is from within.
Challenger Yushchenko has tapped a tremendous force for fairness by inspiring his supporters to show their resolve by setting up hundreds of tents in the cold and slush of Kiev's Independence Square. And he's taking the natural and best course of a democrat by appealing to the country's institutions - the supreme court and parliament - to handle his appeal. Both bodies have shown their independence from the prime minister's corrosive influence over the past week.
Borrowing a page from the recent history of "velvet revolutions" in Europe, Ukrainians are taking their own stand for peaceful change. May it have its desired effect.